WAITSBURG - Pushing comes naturally to Seth Deal.
The sophomore runner is used to pushing his friends to do better. And now, he's getting used to pushing his team to run harder - whether by his own example or through encouragement.
"I want to push others to do their best and run hard," the Waitsburg-Prescott student-athlete said.
He'll have a chance to push again Saturday when the District 9 cross country champion leads his teammates into the Washington state cross country meet in Pasco.
The entire W-P boys team qualified to race, as did one girl, senior Isabel Benito.
It's a culmination of years of work for all - and for the boys, it's their third consecutive trip to state.
"We've improved a lot as a team," Deal said. "We've gotten a lot closer. We're smaller, but we're all really close."
Deal may be the fleetest harrier on the team, but he's quick to point to his teammates - even as they climb in trees, waiting for practice to begin - as his support and the strength of the crew.
Last year, the boys team, led by then-juniors Nick Carpenter and Matthew Montgomery, placed ninth at State.
This year, they want to do better.
"As a team, we want first," Carpenter, a team co-captain, said. "Seth's goal is to be first, and I don't think anyone will be within 20 seconds of him."
Based on the District results, it may be a safe goal. Deal finished first in 16:58 at District, about 20 seconds ahead of the second-place runner.
Carpenter finished eighth in 18:28, Montgomery was 14th in 19:38 and freshman Erik Sandoval was 15th in 19:45.
Benito, W-P's lone girl at District, finished fourth in 22:25, good enough to qualify her for the State girls' race. This is her second trip to state.
"As a junior, I wasn't ready for it," she said. "It was my first year and I didn't know what to expect.
"Now I know, and I'm going to push myself to do better."
That's what coach Joanna Lanning expects. Now in her seventh year coaching cross country, Lanning has taken at least one runner to State each of the last six years.
"It takes a special kid," Lanning said of cross country runners. "And these kids have it. They work hard and they're passionate about it."
The W-P team also won an academic award from the state for their 3.7 GPA average.
"These are kids who want to work hard," Lanning said. "I've had fast runners before, but Seth really bought into the hard work it takes."
For his part, Deal wants to win.
"My goal is to get into the top three and run a personal best," he said.
Right now, that's beating 16:31 in the 5,000-meters, and Deal says breaking the time is a reasonable goal. He'd like to make it into the 16:20s.
"If I run the race and run it hard, I can get there," he said.
Deal isn't only concerned with his own success. He also wants to see Benito put in her best race.
"I want to see her do well," he said. "She always pushes herself to the max and I think she'll do great."
The Sun Willows Golf Course locale of the State meet, which the W-P boys and Benito have all run before, is a challenging one, Deal said, with lots of hills and dips.
"But it's not as hard as the District course," which was in Pomeroy, he said. "We've been training hard. We're prepared. This week we're resting and getting ready."
Benito had a tough run at District, suffering an asthma attack on the back half of the race.
"It was really rough," she said. "It began with a bad day school-wise, and it was hard."
But like Deal, Benito wants to see the whole team perform.
"I'm amazed by the boys' performance," she said. "They all do really well. We practice hard, and as long as everyone stays healthy and out of trouble, we'll do great. If we all do the best we can, great things can happen."
For the entire team - about six runners total, Lanning said - getting to this point has been the goal.
"They're all committed," she said. "I'd rather have a small group like this than a big group of kids who aren't in it."
Deal exemplifies that, she said. He goes all-out, exerting himself completely during his races. Deal has worked with Lanning since he was in the seventh grade.
Benito, who has been running with the W-P team since her sophomore year, is peaking now, and she'll be sad to leave W-P cross country.
"There are so many things I want to do next year," she said, listing off college, joining the Marines and coaching high school cross country as options. "But I'm very proud of my team, and I'm going to miss them. I've never had a team this dedicated and passionate. ... Everyone on the team has a bright future, and if we keep pushing our goals, anything's possible."
Benito runs at about 10:30 a.m. Saturday and the boys hit the course around 11 a.m.